Health officials recently isolated a new Omicron sub-variant that has newly surfaced in many countries. To date, U.S. hospitals have reported around 100 cases of the slight variant. Altogether, researchers have discovered four “descendants” of the original Omicron strain, with this particular version, called BA.2, moving the quickest.
Widely dubbed “stealth Omicron” by the medical community, BA.2 has already become the dominant existing form of COVID in Denmark. Researchers call it “stealth” because of a genetic trait that makes it more difficult to detect.
GISAID, a global tech platform used for sharing coronavirus data, currently holds nearly 15,000 gene sequence uploads of the BA.2 sub-variant. Over 30 countries have uploaded “stealth Omicron” data, meaning the sub-variant has spread all across the world rather quickly. The Omicron variant, itself, just took center stage late last year, around mid-November.
The World Health Organization notes that BA.2 “is increasing in many countries.”
They also add that it could be even more infectious than the initial Omicron strain, BA.1.
“Investigations into the characteristics of BA.2, including immune escape properties and virulence, should be prioritized independently (and comparatively) to BA.1,” the WHO said.
How is the Omicron Sub-Variant Affecting the World?
To date, United States researchers have uploaded just 96 cases of BA.2 into the database. The CDC recognizes the sub-variant, but said so far Americans have little to worry about. “[BA.2] remains a very low proportion of circulating viruses in the United States and globally.”
Luckily, the Omicron descendant also shares the original’s weakened threat of fatal symptoms.
“We are not so concerned,” Danish virologist Anders Fomsgaard told the Washington Post. “The numbers of hospitalizations [in] ICUs are decreasing,” despite the rising infection rate.
Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College in London, also downplayed the severity of the descendent in a tweet: “Very early observations … suggest no dramatic difference in severity exists compared to BA.1.
“BA.2 causing a second wave at this point [would surprise me],” he said; even if it does prove to have “slightly higher transmissibility.”
So far, doctors aren’t sure about natural immunity to descendant strains like BA.2 if the body has already tackled the original Omicron. The prevailing attitude seems to be something near ‘cautious optimism,’ especially considering the symptoms of all Omicron cases have been mostly mild.
The medical community seems to be coming around to a future outlook in which COVID-19 is simply part of the new everyday reality. As new variants continue to mount, the public’s attitude towards COVID-19 basically stays the same: some fear it, some do not. But everyone has learned to live with it in some capacity.
“Variants have come, variants have gone,” Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University School of Medicine, said in an interview. “I don’t think there’s any reason to think this one is worse than the current version of Omicron.”